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West Papua - violence against indigenous women
Cultural Survival - Spring 2011
Fien Jarangga & Galuh Wandita – Papuan women have been suffering terrible violence both outside and inside their homes for the past 40 years, and for most of that time, they've suffered in silence. But now a group of women has launched their own truth commission to give support to the victims and to pressure the government to change its behavior.
Papua (the western half of the island of New Guinea) has long been in a state of upheaval. When Indonesia declared independence from the Netherlands in 1945 and achieved international recognition in 1949, Papua remained under Dutch rule. Indonesia contested this situation, and in 1962 the territory's administration was transferred to the United Nations. Part of that agreement called for an "act of free choice" – a territory-wide vote in which citizens could choose independence or becoming part of Indonesia. The vote was supposed to be universal, but in practice an Indonesian general choose 1,025 men to act as representatives of the whole population, and those representatives voted unanimously for the territory to be absorbed by Indonesia. Some Papuans claim that the process was flawed because it did not follow the one-person-one-vote model and was conducted in a context of on-going military operations, and there has been a low-level resistance movement operating in Papua ever since.
The Indonesian military and police forces, ostensibly acting against these rebels, has committed a wide range of human rights abuses, including murder, rape, torture, and kidnapping, often in secret and rarely with any consequences.
That behavior came to particular public attention in October 2010, with the circulation of a YouTube video showing three Indonesian soldiers torturing two Papuan men. The soldiers were tried by a military court, which sentenced them to less than a year in prison for "not following orders" (the Indonesian military code does not recognize torture as a punishable offense).
Indonesian military presence remains strong in Papua, and the number of Indonesian settlers from other islands is quickly outgrowing the number of indigenous Papuans. Papua was granted "special autonomy" status in 2001, with legislation to establish a human rights court and a truth and reconciliation commission "to clarify the history" of Papua. To date, none of these provisions for justice have been established, while atrocities committed against the Indigenous Peoples continue.
So, more than a year ago, a group of Indigenous Papuan women gathered to talk about the violence that we have experienced. We wanted to look back to the past, because we knew that there needs to be a reckoning, a way to listen to Indigenous women who experienced violence since the time of conflict started more than 40 years ago. We wanted to write down, for the first time, women's stories of rape and abuse that took place during military campaigns in Papua. We also wanted to listen to stories of Indigenous women beaten by their husbands, because we know that the violence in our private lives is also connected to the violence that took place during times of political conflict.
In May 2009, 19 Indigenous women and 3 men from 11 organizations across Papua met for 4 days to discuss how we could we begin to collect some of these stories. With support from the National Women's Commission and assistance from the International Center for Transitional Justice, we developed some forms and came up with a plan to find these women, convince them to tell their story, and write those stories down. Working for more than a year, we were able to collect stories from 261 Indigenous women survivors of violence.
The team worked for more than six months interviewing victims and witnesses, as well as conducting group interviews while making maps and timelines together, to jog each other's memories. Interviews were analyzed and discussed together by the team, and a report and recommendations were drafted and discussed in workshops held in Jayapura – This participatory approach was used to ensure transfer of knowledge and skills to Indigenous Papuan women involved in this effort.
These are some of the stories we collected:
[In] 1967, military operations were conducted in the town of Biak and began to move to the villages. In 1969 [we] went home to Swaipak, Biak staying there during the Sadar [military] operations. The Yospan [traditional dance] became a threat to parents, because they had to let their young daughters [participate]; in fact, some parents pressured their daughters to go to the Yospan rather than be targeted with physical violence or threatened... In the middle of the night the people were woken up... the young girls were made to dance Yospan then have sexual relations. The troops said to the parents and husbands, 'You must understand.'During a dance party organized by the troops in Jayapura district, around 1989, a fight broke out between some community members. Some soldiers intervened:
The soldiers brought my sister in law and told her to swallow a battery, until she was coughing. They wouldn't allow us to bring her to the hospital.... The next day, they brought me and [a young man who was involved in the fight] to their post.... They opened our clothes, and told us to stand in water for hours.... Then they made us sleep on the beach for about one hour. We were given no food; we were very hungry. Then they forced [the young man] to rape me. After that they made us walk to the post naked; at the post a picture was taken of us.But we also heard stories of violence in the home:
Fighting in families in my neighborhood usually happens after our husbands consume alcohol... CT (a local brand).... When we wives are beaten to almost half dead by our drunken husbands, the crazed husbands don't get arrested or taken away. Maybe this is also because other than some people who sell CT, there are also policemen who sell and consume (alcohol). So how will the police take care of security?And how Indigenous women are susceptible to HIV/AIDS:
I was married when I was 14 years old. When I was in elementary school, in fifth grade, I was forced by my family to enter a traditional marriage with a chief who already had three wives. I tried to resist; I wanted to go to school like my other friends. But the chief kept pressuring my family, so I had no choice.... After a year, the chief brought a new wife from the town and told us this is the fifth wife. Since the fifth wife arrived, our family started getting sick [from AIDS]. [It started] with my husband, who died, then wife number five, then three, then second, and first. They all died in one year... After being examined (at the hospital), I was infected by HIV/AIDS. This is a new illness for us. We were told to take ARV medication regularly.Finally, on April 19, 2010 we produced a 90-page report called "Enough Already" on violence against women that took place during 1963-2009. We presented this report to the Papuan Indigenous People's Council, an official body established by the Special Autonomy law for Papua to protect Indigenous People's rights, and to the National Women's Commission. The Special Autonomy law was passed in 2001, and it includes the establishment of a truth commission and a court to try human rights violations. But until now, none of these has been established. Many other parts of the Special Autonomy law have also not been implemented.
Main findings and recommendations
Our report documents more than 135 cases of state violence against women and 113 cases of violence in the family, using as our guide the definitions in the UN Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women. As mentioned above, we purposefully looked at both state and domestic violence to reflect what we have experienced in our lives. Indigenous women experience violence in the context of the political conflict in Papua, where we are displaced during military action, often becoming victims of rape, abuse, and other human rights violations. At the same time, Indigenous women are reporting high rates of domestic violence perpetrated by their husbands or partners, while receiving little protection from police or state agencies. Ironically, the influx of funds as part of the special autonomy package granted to Papua since 2001 seems to have increased the level of alcohol consumption, unprotected sex, and incidents of domestic violence. Similarly, special autonomy has not become a deterrent to human rights violations. Cases of rape by the military have continued to take place after reformation (1998) and special autonomy (2001). In fact, we found cases where women victims of human rights violations later become victims of domestic violence due to the stigma they experience as victims.
The crimes by the military and police that we documented included killings and disappearances (8 cases), attempted killings and shootings (5), illegal detention (18), assault (21), torture (9), sexual torture (6), rape (52), attempted rape (2), sexual slavery (5), sexual exploitation (9), forced contraception or abortion (4), and displacement (24). And those were just among the women who gave testimony.
Looking at the stories we collected, we made some findings regarding the conditions that perpetuate and contribute to violence against Indigenous women in Papua:
1. The central government maintains a security approach that overuses violence, with impunity for perpetrators of human rights violations, including gender-based violations.We made recommendations to the Indonesian central government, calling for accountability, including acknowledgment of the truth regarding human rights violations; establishment of a truth commission and human rights court for Papua, as required under the Special Autonomy law; and the political commitment to enter into a peaceful dialogue with Papuan stakeholders.
2. There is discrimination against women in the Papuan Indigenous culture which leads to a tolerance towards violence against women.
3. The continued conflict (over natural resources, the political situation, and local-to-national-level struggle for power) has created a context that leads to an increase in incidents of violence against women, both in the public and private realms.
4. There is a lack of response and political will from the government to find a peaceful solution to the conflict in general, and specifically to the problem of violence against women.
5. Indigenous Papuan women experience layers of trauma and disempowerment without access to any interventions, causing a cycle of victimization.
Reform recommendations, including vetting and trials for those who committed crimes, were made to Indonesia's armed forces. We also made recommendations to the Papuan local government, legislative body, and the Papuan Indigenous People's Council to take concrete steps to eradicate violence against women, including developing a comprehensive approach to prevent and respond to domestic violence, and a local mechanism based on law for the rehabilitation of victims.
We handed over the report in a simple ceremony at the Papuan Indigenous People's Council building in Abepura, where council officials, members of our team, commissioners and staff from the Women's Commission, representatives of victims interviewed for the report, and other civil society members gathered to witness the handing over of the report. The chair of the council's Working Group on Religion set the tone of the event when he led the opening prayer by articulating the need for acknowledgment. "We pray for those who have been tortured; we pray that God gives us strength and hope that there will be improvement in our lives. We also pray for those who committed this violence, so that they see themselves for what they have done." The head of the council praised members of the documentation team as representing "the women of Papua who have won this first battle." He acknowledged that one of the most difficult challenges is changing their own culture "so that cultural violence can be addressed and acknowledged." He underlined the need for the elimination of violence, "even when our people say that this is normal." "We now have to start the second battle," he said.
A musical group and local choir sang songs that brought tears to all of us attending the ceremony, expressing the deep emotions in the struggle against oppression and racism of the Papuan people. Excerpts from some of the lyrics:
Black is my skin, curly is my hair, I am Papua...Small bits of truth: Follow-up activities
Even when the sky falls down, we are Papua
The work that we did is an example of how Indigenous groups are beginning to use human rights tools to recover and acknowledge the truth about past violations. In a context of impunity, where the debate about the need for a truth commission may or may not lead to the establishment of one, we are trying to make our voices heard. So far, what Indigenous women have experienced has not been acknowledged by the government. So we are at least acknowledging this ourselves.
Since we finished the report, we have formed a network for further work. We plan to work on how to help the women victims' take positive steps to healing, while also pressuring the government to recognize their stories, and commit to stopping the violence.
[Fien Jarangga coordinates the Papuan Women's Human Rights Network, a newly formed network of Indigenous human rights workers from Papua, Indonesia. Galuh Wandita is a senior associate at the International Center for Transitional Justice.]
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